American Independent, 6/21/2012 [Archive]

The Anti-Abortion Game of Life

The Anti-Abortion Game of Life

By Sofia Resnick, The American Independent

You probably didn't realize it, but tax dollars tucked away in President Obama's health care reform bill are being used to fund abstinence education programs run by anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers that promote dubious medical information. And records reveal that some of that money is being spent on educational activities like a giant "Teen Life Maze" and a mock game show about sex.

Critics have long challenged the accuracy and effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education. After taking office, President Obama moved to cut off federal funding for most of these programs.

But Congress attached $250 million in abstinence-only funding to the health care bill. The funds are distributed to state health departments, which then allocate sub-awards to various organizations.

So far, at least three anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) -- all in Tennessee -- have received a total of about $650,000 through this provision.

That money was awarded to: Full Circle Women's Services in Athens; Life Choices Pregnancy Support Center in Dyersburg; and Women's Care Center of Rhea County, Inc., in Dayton.

In addition to teaching teens not to have sex, these centers seek to discourage abortion by offering various services, such as counseling and free pregnancy tests.

The websites of Full Circle and Life Choices feature an array of misinformation about abortion. This includes claims that abortion causes breast cancer, despite widespread rejection of an abortion-breast cancer link from major medical institutions such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the National Cancer Institute.

Both Full Circle Women's Services and the Women's Care Center are affiliated with Care Net, a national network of crisis pregnancy centers that prohibits its members from recommending, offering, or referring "single women" for contraception.

Whereas proponents of comprehensive sex education encourage teaching teens how to practice safe sex while acknowledging that condoms are not foolproof, abstinence-only advocates often claim that teaching proper condom use offers young people a "false sense of security."

In documents submitted to the state, Full Circle says that it seeks to help students understand "the lack of effectiveness of condoms/birth control in STD protection and pregnancy."

On their websites, all three of the taxpayer-funded CPCs tell readers that "consistent" condom use during vaginal sex reduces the risk of "HIV by 85 percent" and gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, and syphilis "by about 50 percent." The statistics come from the Medical Institute, a nonprofit whose advice for preventing STDs is: "Avoid sexual activity if you are single. Be faithful to one uninfected partner for the rest of your life."

Professor Richard A. Crosby, who chairs the Department of Health Behavior at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, says these figures are misleading.

"These are not statistics that are widely supported by the literature," says Crosby. "They are confounded by a lack of accounting for the correct use of condoms. ... When you do not account for the correct use, you have an underestimate of the effectiveness."

"All of these numbers are way low," Crosby says.

But the CPCs' abstinence education techniques aren't limited to presenting questionable data.

Full Circle, for example, proposed using part of its federal grant to build a giant "Teen Life Maze." The center cited the game as one of its "innovative approaches" to abstinence instruction in a grant application submitted last year to the state. According to the center, the maze is a "life-size version of the game of Life" that "allows students to literally experience [how] their choices have consequences." Those consequences include "making trips to the doctor for a lifelong STD or the satisfaction in staying on course and graduating from high school."

Other innovative approaches proposed by Full Circle include hosting a game show about the risks of having sex and screening the film Look Before You Leap, described in the proposal as "an adrenaline rush of drama, action, and humor that takes relationship education to extreme heights."


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This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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